Curently a year 7 classroom teacher, Joy Kirr’s career didn’t start that way. Her story highlights the power of being a learner and challenging yourself. Joy has been a huge advocate for the use of genius hour with students and readily shares her knowledge and experience in this area with other educators. Currently she is trialling a “no grades” classroom.
This is one of a series of posts featuring careers in teaching.
How do you describe what you currently do?
I currently teach seventh grade children. I hope I teach them how to be kind to one another. I also hope I teach them how to communicate better through listening, speaking, and writing.
How did you get to where you are now?
I began teaching deaf and hard of hearing students in 1995 – as an itinerant teacher and also in a Montessori school. I had learned ASL and then also learned Cued Speech. So many of my students had difficulty reading, so I went for my Master’s in reading. Right afterwards I became a reading specialist at my current school. When I became department head, teachers were telling me I “had no clue what they were going through” in the classroom. So… I jumped in to teach 7th grade ELA when we went to the block schedule of reading and writing in one 80-minute block. I’ve been in this position since. This is my 22nd year, but only my 8th year in the “typical” classroom. Our classroom is not at all what it was like in 2009.
Why do you do what you do?
I love 7th graders. They are still quite innocent, and yet mature right before your eyes. They make me crack up with their witty answers, and also when they don’t have a clue what’s going on. These are my kids.
What has been one of the highlights of your career?
Shifting what goes on in the classroom. I have a supportive administration when I try to mix things up for the students’ benefit, so no year is ever the same. We try something big each year! It feels as if each year is my first, and each year gets better than the last! This is my best year yet, as I’m not giving any grades! My students are collecting evidence so they can decide their final grade at the end of each quarter. We have been giving and receiving TONS of feedback! (Can you feel my enthusiasm?!)
What were some of the problems you’ve faced?
With every problem I’ve faced, I’ve learned how to reach out for help from other teachers. This may be by reading professional literature or asking teacher friends at school or on Twitter. I am fortunate my problems are small, and I learn from each mistake I’ve made. I thank my husband for asking me, “What are you going to do about it?” when I come up against a problem.
What has been the most difficult thing in your career?
I have “first-world problems.” Sometimes students are difficult, sometimes parents, and sometimes coworkers. I do what I can with what I have. Really, I have been very fortunate.
If there was one thing you could change in education what would it be?
Ask teachers to care for the children first, then focus on content. That means asking for fewer tests that decide the fates of programs and teachers.
What would be the top three things someone should know if they are considering doing what you have done?
- Know how to find resources – sometimes it feels as if you’re “going it alone,” but there are many places and people you can go to for help.
- Know that it consumes all of your time. Even in the summer, you’ll be planning for the next year, because it’s a passion and you’ll want to do it better and better!
- Get to know your kids. Building a relationship will make the rest of the year more valuable and effective.
What would you suggest as the best way to get started?
Get started with the year? Check out the resources regarding the #1st5days. Make the connections with kids first, so you are able to garner their trust and help them learn the content. After that, keep reading. Read blogs about teachers’ stories, read professional literature that will help you develop your growth mindset, and read your students’ stories – learn from them each day.
If you had one secret to tell others what would it be?
It’s not about YOU. It’s all about the KIDS. What will benefit kids the most? Do that.